The Oft Doubted Orioles are the American League’s Sleeper Team

Baltimore has constantly been counted out throughout Buck Showalter’s tenure.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After being projected to finish last in the American League East by PECOTA, Baltimore has already began the season with a bang. The Orioles have started off the season with a 7–3 record, putting them first place in the division.

Yes, they’ve only had two quality starts in those seven games, both turned in by Dylan Bundy. Yes, Jonathan Schoop has started off the season cold. Yes, Trey Mancini is inexperienced as an outfielder. Yes, the bullpen as a whole has looked shaky in their past few outings, but this team has found a way to win.

This is nothing new for the Orioles.

During the 2011 season, Baltimore traded for a pivotal player. Davis has hit 201 home runs as an Oriole. He has also often made many scoops on crazily athletic throws from Manny Machado.

Once upon a time, Davis was considered to be a failed prospect. He was believed to be a bad hitter, who only could strike for power. When Davis was 23 years old in 2009, he showed some promise with 21 homers, though his slash line was .238/.284/.442. In his first full season with the Orioles in 2012, Davis batted .270/.326/.501 with 33 homers.

He was doubted.

In 2012, the Orioles were negative in run differential for much of that season. They still managed to finish the season +7 in run differential, make the playoffs and even advance into the Divisional Round, taking the New York Yankees to five games.

A perfect example of Showalter’s prowess as a manager comes in a 2012 article from Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger:

These Orioles are not a miracle but they are close. The team scored 712 runs; it allowed 705. The run differential suggests it should have won 82 games. Instead, the team won 93. The conventional wisdom distills the teams formula into two parts: Buck and luck.
The latter is reflected in the Orioles record. They are 74–0 when leading after the eighth inning. They are 29–9 in extra-inning games. The odds are that those numbers will even out next season.
But Showalter received credit for how he handled his relievers. Under his watch, the Os had a 3.00 bullpen ERA, third-best in the AL.

Once again, they were doubted.

Before the 2014 season, many outlets counted the Orioles out before the season, citing a weak starting rotation and a lack of closer. Both problems were corrected.

Kevin Gausman, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jiménez and Wei-Yin Chen all started during the season. Norris finished with a 3.65 ERA. Gausman finished with a 3.57 ERA. Chen finished with a 3.54 ERA. Gonzalez finished with a 3.23 ERA. Jiménez had a 4.81 ERA. As a whole, the Orioles had a 3.46 ERA (ranking eighth in the Majors).

They all were doubted.

Baltimore began the season without a definitive closer. Tommy Hunter would assume the role to start the season and after a few shaky outings, the Orioles decided to go in a different direction. A few other pitchers tried their hands at the closer’s role, but an unlikely candidate stepped up:

Enter Zach Britton.

Britton finished the 2014 season with 37 saves, a 3–2 record and a 1.65 ERA. He now is considered to be one of the top closers in the league and has 123 saves. Before his breakout season as a closer in 2014, Britton had issues as a starter. He often shuttled between Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore. From 2011–2013, Britton compiled a record of 18–17 and had a 4.77 ERA.

A man who would have the greatest season by a closer in league history in 2016, was doubted.

This season, Baltimore has had similar doubts. But they refuse to be held back by those doubts from people outside of the organization. Their ace pitcher Chris Tillman is set to return from injury in May. Davis looks like the 2013 version of himself when he hit 53 home runs. Machado looks the same defensively. Amazing. And Showalter is bound to find another diamond in the rough, possibly in the minors.

Through all of the issues and negative perceptions of the lineup of the team, the lack of speed and the problems with the rotation, Baltimore has continued to persevere. They may not win it all. They may not win their division. But what they are doing is absolutely commendable.

The moral of the story is to never doubt the Orioles. It could come back to bite you.